Day 20: A flat 95 to McRae
We woke up behind the FlashMart, the tent moist with dew, and groggily wandered into the convenience store, our hygiene gear in tow. The lady working the counter was different than the one that’d seen us lounging around last night, so we got a healthy, bewildered stare. We weren’t wearing our bike clothing, so, for her, the probability that we were vagrants was significantly higher than if we were wearing spandex. The bike gear helps indicate to clerks that we’re just crazy white guys with enough money to bike to remote areas like Parkin and camp behind their one convenience store in town. This then indicates that we’re less likely to cause trouble.
We shuffled around the convenience store, still waking up while gathering cheap confections to compose a breakfast. We scavanged about four dollars worth of sugar each, then presented ourselves to the still-chilly clerk. We paid and sat at a booth and inhaled calories a while.
After we’d eaten, we took turns brushing teeth and changing in a bathroom. After a few weeks on the road, the details of one convenience store bathroom vs. the last run together, and a strange familiarity can hit you even if you’ve only been in the john a few seconds.
While Mike took his turn changing, I sat talking to one of the locals for a solid few minutes. What this rural, hatted black dude was saying was almost incomprehensible, but I gave the occasional nod and tried to grab onto what few shards of coherent thought the guy threw at me. He was a nice guy, but mostly repeated himself and had a hard time taking a hint.
We changed, packed the bikes up, and pedaled out of Parkin.
We spent a lot of time biking, but it didn’t seem that way. The meditative lull that I’d strived for on earlier days came easily with the flat terrain. A uniformly frequent pedal-stroke was all it took to keep moving, so that left me alone with music.
Some people may find it unbearably boring, pedaling for hours on end through empty farmland, but I’ve had practice since early on. Back in grade school, come near summertime we’d cross the hot blacktop to the church for a strange ritual called “Stations of the Cross.” We’d spend three hours alternately kneeling and standing in the varnished pews of the church, readjusting our bodies every 20 minutes or so to face a new scene of the crucifixtion depicted in a one of the stained-glass windows.
The process was punctuated with prayer and painfully boring, but my feelings toward it were mixed: after all, three hours spent in church is three hours spent outside of the classroom.
This ritual taught me how to ward off boredom and entertain myself with thought, despite otherwise being a waste of time.
We pedaled through fields of muddy, dusty nothing, eventually getting to a little town with a restaurant, Ralph’s Hamburgers. We locked our bikes to a sign out front, taking one last bath in the thick heat, then we ducked inside for some cold drinks and hamburgers.
Ralph’s appeared to be run by an old Greek man, and I only guess at his being Greek by the fact that he put tzatziki sauce on hamburgers. I shouldn’t say “hamburgers;” what we ordered he called “Hubcaps,” which were hamburgers with patties about twice as thick, the condiments on the wrong side of the patties, and, as I said, slathered in tzatziki sauce. I loved the mess.
We sat a while in Ralph’s. I banged out an update and Mike continued on with Mr. Keruoac. At around 3PM, we paid up and left, unlocking the bikes and pedaling into westerly dust.
We hit one straightaway that ran parallel with a railroad; it continued on for over 15 miles. Biking it was like starring into some kind of optical illusion. I kept my gaze mostly low and let my mind wander to the throb of music.
Without really being aware of it, we hit around 90 miles and pulled into the small town of McRae, population near 600. McRae, unlike almost every other small we’d hit so far, was charming. Town was centered around a quadrant about a sqaure mile in area; the only buildings open to us were the Post Office, a country restaurant (closed when we arrived), and a convenience store.
Mike had called ahead and talked to a very friendly clerk at City Hall who’d said we’d been cleared to camp in the city’s parking lot, so we knew we’d be sleeping here tonight, but the town didn’t offer us anywhere to buy a hot dinner.
We walked into the convenience store and talked a little with the guy working the counter. He told us that just down the road, “no more than four miles, no less than three,” there were a few restaurants we could chow at, but he also had some hot food for sale. I almost immediately figured he wasn’t from here; I said something to that effect and he revealed that he was born and raised in Brooklyn. Both surprised and unsurprised1, we asked him what the hell he was doing out here. He spread his hands out to emphasize the innards of the convenience store and said, “business.”
Mike and I decided to truck the few miles down the road for pizza, so we thanked him and left.
We finished the trek and had a wonderful meal in Pizza Hut. The Hut was decorated in brick and dark wood, unlike the bad Taco Bell imitations that pass for Huts in Reston.
We trucked back to set up the tent. As we pulled into the city park, situated right beneath the town’s water-tower, a cream-white Prius pulled up behind us and Pam, the woman Mike had talked to on the phone, drove up to say hello. She also brought with her a plate of beef brisket and carrots. Sweet, heavenly woman!
We went back to the convenience store and talked a little more with Ray, the Brooklynite, then we found a bench to annex and stayed a while reading and writing. Mike got tired before closing time, so he ambled back to the water-tower for a head start on some sleep. I stuck around the store, still working on the Memphis update, and got into a conversation with the janitor, another New Yorker who’d spent some time in the California State Penitentiary. He was a cordial, socially apt ex-con with a few inconveniently placed tattoos.
Eventually I bagged it for the tent and fell asleep in the dark heat. The night was littered with train whistles and the thunder of fraight cars rumbling by.
he had spiked hair, earrings, and a flatbush accent. c’mon.↩